Capitol Update Week 15

Iowa Unemployment Rate Increases to 4.5% in March

Last week, Iowa Workforce Development released the jobs report for March of 2014. The state’s unemployment increased from 4.4% in February to 4.5% in March. A year ago, Iowa’s unemployment rate was 4.8%.

Currently, Lyon County boasts the state’s lowest unemployment rate of 2.9%, followed by
Johnson and Shelby counties at 3.2% respectively. Allamakee County continues to struggle with an unemployment rate well above the state average at 8.3%, followed by Clayton County at 7.6% and Tama County at 7.5%.

5,300 jobs were added between February and March, while 1,800 jobs were lost during that same time. 7,100 workers also joined the labor force in March, which is an increase of 23,900 workers since a year ago. Iowa’s increasing labor force is a sign that the state’s economy is strong and continues to grow.

The state’s unemployment rate is tied for seventh lowest in the country.

New Media Rules Expands Transparency in the Court

Beginning May 1st, the Iowa Supreme Court will broaden the Court’s definition of news media. The new definition will allow for live social media to be used in the chambers, including tweeting and blogging.

Iowa has been leading the way in transparency in the Courts. Since 1979, Iowa has allowed cameras in the Supreme Court Chambers. It has taken many years for
other states to follow suit. Now Iowa is leading the way in social media usage in Court Chambers. Over the past 10 months a 15 person advisory committee
reviewed language submitted by Iowa Judges, attorneys and members of the media. The language expands the definition of news media to include anyone who regularly reports on matters of public interest in any medium. It also allows for social media to be used in the Court room, including Twitter, Facebook and blogs.

Previous language used by the Court was vague and Reporters were not sure if the use of computers or phones to send social media messages was actually allowed during a live court room proceeding. The new language clears up any confusion and ensures all Iowans have better access to news coming out of the Courts.

As technology changes Court rules must change to ensure equal access for all Iowans. These new rules keep Iowa ahead of most states for transparency and helps keep Iowa Courts number one in the nation.

Drop in Deer Donations

The number of deer donated to a Department of Natural Resources program that uses the meat to feed the hungry dropped by 15 percent this year. Hunters still donated 3,900 deer to the “Help Us Stop Hunger” (HUSH) program. According to the Iowa DNR,
hunters have been very generous over the last 10 years.

Hunters donated 30 less tons of meat this year compared to last year. The DNR thinks donations are down because the deer population is also down. The Food Bank of Iowa coordinates distribution of the deer meat and is replacing the loss of venison with other protein, like canned chicken, or even peanut butter. Hunters in the program have donated 60,000 deer in 10 years — which is the equivalent of 10.8 million meals.

 
House Passes Support for Renewable Energy

This week the House passed Senate File 2343 by a vote of 91-4. The legislation provides an extension for the tax credits for wind energy and other renewable energy facilities that have been awarded production tax credits under 476C. The legislation also includes certain landfill bi-products as allowed fuel sources for an existing cogeneration subcategory.

Specifically, Senate File 2343 extends the deadline for putting in place a renewable energy facility to qualify for Iowa’s existing renewable energy tax credit. The current deadline is January 1, 2015—this section changes that date to January 1, 2017.

Additionally, Senate File 2343 adds methane gas, landfill gas, and biogas as allowed fuel sources for an existing 10.0 megawatt cogeneration subcategory of qualified facilities. This is currently limited to natural gas cogeneration. The bill also provides that thermal heat generated by the cogeneration facility and used for a commercial purpose may be counted toward satisfying the 10.0 megawatt reservation requirement.

Senate File 2343 makes a corresponding change to extend the 10-year duration during which a producer or purchaser of renewable energy may receive renewable energy tax credit certificates from an end date of December 31, 2024, to December 31, 2026. Senate
File 2343 is expected to have a fiscal impact of $2.0 million in FY 2016 and $5.3 million in FY 2017. The bill will now go to the Governor for his review.

Week 15 Recap 

This week marked the official end to the session. 100 days have passed since we started back in January. At this point, we say goodbye to the backbone of the legislature, our clerks. They work behind the scenes, helping answer emails, sending newsletters, writing
committee reports, and agendas for meetings. Again this year I was fortunate to have Dax Oberreuter from Ryan. He was a great clerk and made my job much easier. Thanks Dax, and I wish you well in your future—you are always welcome here at the capital.

As I am writing this newsletter, retirement speeches are being delivered. It is a true sign the legislature is nearing the end. Each retiring legislator has the opportunity to stand up and reflect on their past experiences as serving here in the legislature. Each one will be missed and I thank them for their service to Iowa.

All but one budget has been approved or moved to conference committee. The Standings bill is the last bill to be worked out, and negotiations between the House and Senate have started. The conference committees are working hard to reach agreements so
that we can close this session. The hope is that we can adjourn yet this weekend.
Thursday, Senator Zumbach and I made a quick trip back to Lake Delhi to be a part of the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of the dam. This is just another step to bringing the lake back, but it was a huge step. It was great to see all the people who
showed up to be a part of this historic day. There have been a lot of people who have had a part in this and worked hard to see this day happen. It should be an interesting summer to watch the construction progress and the return of the lake.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about these topics or any others please feel free to contact me by e-mail at lee.hein@legis.state.ia.us or by phone at (515) 281-7330

 

 

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